Who is Michelle Tanner?

Recently, I received an email asking, “Who is Michelle Tanner? Is she whole cloth from your imagination? Is she based on a real person? Will she ever find love?”

Those are valid questions. Let’s start with, who is Michelle Tanner? She is a fictional frontier woman who lived her life like men lived their lives in the period of history between the Civil War and turn of the century. Michelle lived in that time we call, the Old West. A proud, fiercely independent woman who refused to be boxed in by the traditions of her time. She wasn’t all that unique, there were more than 1000 women during those years that fit the same mold as Michelle Tanner.

Is she whole cloth from my imagination? Yes and no.

Was she a real person? No, Michelle Tanner did not exist. However, she is a compilation or combination of several women who did live in those wild years. So, in a way, the question is she based on a real person? is a resounding sort of.

I stitched together facts and characteristics for Shell from both heroines and villains, or is it, villainesses? There’s Bandit Pearl Hart, Laura Bullion of the Wild Bunch (never saw that in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, did you?) Bell Star, who out famed her outlaw husband, Sam Star. Bell was also pals with Cole Younger (maybe more than pals, yeah, more than pals, poor Sam). Bell worked as a prostitute in between train, bank, and stagecoach holdups, (poor Cole and Sam…shame on her). We have Claire Helena Ferguson, the girl sheriff of Utah. Calamity Jane Cannery, yes that is the right spelling, or is it? Some report it as Canary, but isn’t that small bird that sings? Either way, Martha Jane was a boisterous, adventurous woman, who was the best self-promoter in the Old West, she’d make a good friend for Michelle. Ellen Liddy Watson, also known as Cattle Kate, a Wyoming woman rancher that worked her own cattle on own her land. She may or may not have been a cattle rustler, but she was lynched for being a rustler by a competing rancher. (Then again, the winner writes the history so who knows.) Lillian Smith and Anne Oakley were rivals with shooting irons (though not gunfight wise), their competitions were at targets, not each other. Then there’s F.M. Miller, who was appointed as a U.S. Deputy Marshal out of the federal court at Paris, Texas. There are several other US Deputy and full Marshal’s out there, more than I have room to name here.

There’s a mite of each of these women rolled up into Michelle Tanner, and a few others I didn’t name. Michelle would have fit right in with any of these women. Most of the erstwhile mentioned females lived on equal footing with men. Often, they dressed like men, spoke the same way that the men spoke (profanities and all), smoked, chewed, and drank like them. They even earned the respect of the men they worked with or against, as the case maybe.

That brings us to the last question, will Michelle ever find love? I don’t know, I’m not sure she wants love. However, if she does there is a good chance she could. Pearl Hart was married twice, once to an abusive bugger and once to her true love and thieving partner. Likewise, Jane Cannery had two husbands, and a long-term love affair with a madam of a…house of ill repute…in Deadwood. Despite her insistence that she and Wild Bill Hickok were lovers, there is no evidence of that affair. Cattle Kate had a husband, though the marriage was kept secret so she could file claims on the land adjoining her husbands. Many of the other women mentioned were married or had long-term love affairs. But Shell professes to have no interest in such foolishness. Only time will tell us if she is as disinterested in home and hearth as she appears to be.

Now, to me personally, Michelle Tanner is as real as any of those women of history whose stories I have read. I can’t wait to see what happens next for Michelle! I’m hoping to crank out two novels featuring the fiery redhead in the near future!


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